Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The President's Speech

There is nothing major new in the President's speech, so I'll just comment on one section:

I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible. So do I. Some contend that we should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces. Let me explain why that would be a serious mistake. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis - who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops - who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy - who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed - and not a day longer.

Since Bush wants our troops to remain in Iraq until the mission is completed, let's back up in the speech to find out what our current mission is:

Our mission in Iraq is clear. We are hunting down the terrorists. We are helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We are advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability - and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren.

This makes in supremely unclear how we will determine when to leave Iraq. At the risk of beating an obvious point to death, I'll take this one goal at a time.

  1. "hunting down the terrorists:" This part of the mission will be completed when we get tired of hunting down terrorists in Iraq. That's hardly a bright line telling us when it's time to withdraw.
  2. "helping Iraqis build a free nation:" Again, this is a pretty open ended commitment. They have an elected government now, so if we haven't completed this mission yet, it's hard to say what event would constitute the completion of the mission.
  3. "...that is an ally in the war on terror:" That's a rather presumptuous goal unless we are trying to create a puppet government.
  4. "advancing freedom in the broader Middle East:" So the timing of our withdrawal depends on events in the greater Middle East, not just in Iraq?
  5. "removing a source of violence and instability:" Bush doesn't bother to identify this "source," so we have to guess what he means. My guess is that he is referring to Saddam Hussein, in which case this part of the mission is already accomplished.
  6. "laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren:" And how in the world are we supposed to know whether we have achieved this, or even whether we are getting closer to achieving it?

Bottom line: with this mission, it's basicly meaningless to say that we will stay until the mission is completed.

With that in mind, Bush's claimed reasons for refusing to give a timetable for withdrawal look unconvincing. I think it is important to make clear to the Iraqi people that we are not going to stay indefinitely. I think our soldiers are prepared to withdraw from Iraq when our government determines that it is in our national interest to do so. And I think that the insurgents are planning to wait us out in any case. The insurgents won't be defeated by us; they will be defeated, if at all, by there fellow Iraqis.

Bush's speech continued:

Some Americans ask me, if completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever - when we are in fact working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave. As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters - the sober judgment of our military leaders.

This illustrates the disconnect from reality of this Administration. If Bush read the newspapers, he would understand the problem: when we go into a city and defeat the insurgents, we don't have enough troops to continue to secure the city. We leave, and the insurgents come back. If commanders aren't requesting more troops, it's because they know that such requests would not be welcomed by the White House. Bush's assertion that he would send more troops is an empty promise--we don't have more troops to send.

Bush's speech has done nothing to reassure me that he has a reasonable plan to achieve a decent result in Iraq and get our troops out.


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